Just two years after raising $32 million in venture capital, Genicon Sciences, which had been developing a new molecular labeling technique with potential applications in protein microarrays, has gone out of business. But the San Diego-based com- pany’s technology has already found a new home down the road: This week, Invitrogen said that it had acquired the rights to the labeling technique, resonance light scattering, and Genicon’s products for $2 million, and that it plans to incorporate the technology into novel products, especially for studying protein function. “Our view is that the market is heading in that direction. That’s where the greatest scientific need is,” said Paul Goodson, Invitrogen’s vice president of investor relations.
According to Goodson, Invi- trogen bought the rights to Genicon’s technology for research and development applications, while “other parts” related to diagnostic applications were licensed by another company. Over the next few months, about a dozen former Genicon employees — along with some of the company’s assets — will move to Invitrogen’s headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., near San Diego.
According to Todd Peterson, the former vice president of technology at Genicon who started with Invitrogen this week, Genicon closed down gradually, involving several rounds of layoffs over the last six months or so.
Goodson did not provide any details on upcoming products that will include the RLS technology. However, earlier this year, Genicon said it was about to launch a protein microarray toolkit (see PM 1-20-03). “There is a lot of interest in that product” at Invitrogen, said Peterson.
Genicon claimed its RLS technology possesses a number of advantages over traditional fluorescent, radioactive, or chemiluminescent labeling techniques. RLS assays are said to be about 10 times more sensitive than flouresence-based assays, allowing researchers to use 10-fold less starting material. The signal is stable over time and can therefore be re-measured and archived, and the linear dynamic range can extend over up to four orders of magnitude.
RLS relies on spherical gold and silver particles of 40 to 120 nanometers diameter, which can be derivatized with antibodies, oligo probes, or small molecule ligands. When illuminated with white light, these particles scatter the light, producing intense signals. The color and intensity of the signal depends on the particle size, shape, and material.
Genicon held two patents to the technology, which was developed by researchers at the University of California, San Diego: US Patent No. 6,214,560 and US Patent No. 6,586,193, both entitled “Analyte Assay Using Particulate Labels.” According to the company, these patents provide broad protection for the methods and use of light-scattering particles as highly sensitive labels for the detection of analytes in a variety of biological assays.
But although the company had its first products on the market, and was initially loaded with cash, it was apparently unable to find enough customers to create a viable business.
Genicon’s first product package, launched last summer, included a one-color nucleic acid microarray toolkit, a detection and imaging instrument, and image-analysis software. Initially, the company sold its products exclusively through the Netherlands-based Qiagen. But in February, the two companies amended their agreement, allowing them to distribute nucleic acid microarray toolkit products in North America. At that time, Genicon launched a two-color nucleic acid microarray toolkit for gene expression analysis. For the time being, Invitrogen plans to co-distribute these products with Qiagen, while retaining exclusive rights to other research uses of RLS.
In addition, Genicon had collaborations with a number of other companies, including Incyte, Ventana Medical Systems, Pall Corporation, Imaging Research, and BD Biosciences Clontech, hoping that these companies would include its RLS technology in their products.
In May of 2001, the company completed a Series D third round of financing totaling $27 million. Investors included Audax Ventures, CMEA, GIMV and Radius Ventures, as well as Utah Ventures, Forward Ventures, and Oxford Bioscience, which also participated in previous rounds. A second closing of the same round two months later added $5 million from TVM Life Science Ventures, and IngleWood Ventures.
The reasons for Genicon’s demise over the following two years remain unclear — several investors did not respond to requests for comment or were unavailable before deadline. “It’s hard to tell that story without beer,” said Peterson, who is hopeful that Invitrogen will be able to breathe new life into Genicon’s technology. “These guys know what they are doing,” he said.